The Hamilton Spectator


Lori Yates passing on her songwriting skills

At the Creative Genius workshop, she’s there to teach not sing, writes Graham Rockingham.

WHATSON Feb 15, 2019 by Graham Rockingham  The Hamilton Spectator
Breathig Exercises

Lori Yates opens the class with breathing exercises. - John Rennison , The Hamilton Spectator 

Coaching Gina

Lori Yates has a singing and songwriting career that includes album recordings in Nashville for Columbia Records. - John Rennison , The Hamilton Spectator 

Creative Genius

Lori Yates has taught more than 100 budding songwriters in her Creative Genius workshop. This session, held at Hotel Hamilton, is her 21st. - John Rennison , The Hamilton Spectator 

Gavin Sings

Gavin O’Sullivan performs his song “Highway Home” for the class. - John Rennison , The Hamilton Spectator 

Lori Adjusts the Microphone

Lori Yates has been running Creative Genius Songwriting Workshops for three years. Here she adjusts the microphone stand for Gina Monaco. - John Rennison , The Hamilton Spectator 

Lori Yates

Lori Yates moved to Hamilton in 2002 after a solo recording career in Nashville and working in Toronto with bands Rang Tango and Hey Stella. - John Rennison , The Hamilton Spectator 

Lori and Gavin

Lori Yates gives some pointers to Gavin O’Sullivan. - John Rennison , The Hamilton Spectator 

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Don't enrol in Lori Yates's Creative Genius songwriting workshop expecting to hear her sing. It doesn't work that way.

Yates possesses one of the best voices in Canadian country music and she can probably make any song sound sweet, even yours. But she's there to teach, not sing.

She possesses more than 30 years of recording and performing experience, signing her first recording contract with Columbia Nashville back in the late '80s. 

She's recorded with Gregg Allman, Jim Cuddy and Rick Danko; toured with Dwight Yoakam, Faith Hill and Steve Earle; and written with Hall of Famers and Grammy winners — Guy Clark, Don Schlitz and Matraca Berg.

Yates knows what she's doing. Which is why no one feels embarrassed when she starts class off with a series of limbering-up and breathing exercises.

"Breathing is your friend," Yates says. "If you're going to sing, you need to have your diaphragm working. It also controls your fear. So let's shake off some fear."

So starts the third class of the 21st Creative Genius workshop. 

The entire course covers six weeks. The goal is for each participant to have two songs recorded at Downtown Sound Recording Studios on Barton Street and then performed before a live audience Thursday, Feb. 21, 8 p.m., at Zylas, 229 James St. N. (the public is invited).

Yates limits the size of each six-week session. There are only four people in the current class.

She's been holding these classes for more than three years. So far, more than a hundred people have graduated from her course.



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This class is being held at the boardroom of the Hotel Hamilton, an artist enclave on James Street North above the Mulberry Coffeehouse.

The participants are a diverse group. 

Gina Monaco is a marketing director for a local mortgage company. She's also got a background in journalism and has taken music courses at Mohawk College. Monaco loves singing, but admits she needs help writing the songs.

The week before, Yates was helping Monaco on chord progression. It helped. Now she's having a tough time with melody.

"I'm a professional writer and I write every day, but this confounds me," Monaco says. She's frustrated, but a run-through of her song shows she's making progress.

"You have to have a beginner's mind," Yates tells her. "It's not about thinking, it's always about feeling."

Fern Fresco, who works in the engineering department of a local stair company, has come back for his second workshop, having also taken the course last year. 

Fresco admits to not completing last week's homework assignment, but wants to try out something that came to him while walking his dog that morning. He hasn't brought his guitar, so he uses Yates's.

He offers up two verses that contain some vivid imagery. Applause all around. Yates reminds him he must now finish it.

"Lori kicks me in the butt to get the songs going," Fresco says when asked later why he signed up for the course a second time. "She's awesome."

Gavin O'Sullivan is probably the most experienced of the class. He has played drums, guitar and sung in local bands dating back to the '90s, including The Rayburns and All Good Children.

O'Sullivan offers up a song that had its genesis driving home from the West Coast. It only needs a few tweaks. He's taken some advice from Yates and dropped into a lower key. It seems to work.

"This workshop keeps you on track," O'Sullivan says. "It makes you more accountable."

There are tips on registering songs with SOCAN and working with the Songwriters Association of Canada.

Yates also gives the group some practical advice about live performance. It's a matter of confidence, she explains. Don't get worried if you make a mistake. The audience won't likely notice.

Yates moved to Hamilton in 2002 after a solo recording career in Nashville and working in Toronto with bands Rang Tango and Hey Stella. She still performs regularly in clubs in Hamilton and Toronto.

Creative Genius is a business for Yates — the fee is $425 for the course, including the recording studio time. But it's also a labour of love and a lot of fun.

"It's an honour for me to be able to foster people's creativity," she says after class. "I love being involved with creativity."

905-526-3331 | @RockatTheSpec

Graham Rockingham

by Graham Rockingham

Graham Rockingham has been The Spectator's music editor since 2002. He has an Ontario Newspaper Award for entertainment writing, and has been media person of the year five times at the Hamilton Music Awards. In 2015, he was presented with a special HMA lifetime achievement award. During his 40-year career, Rockingham has been a reporter and editor with the Vancouver Sun, The Vancouver Province and United Press International.

Email: Twitter

CBC Music

Lori Yates is from Toronto and, well, she's not new. If you were trawling around Toronto in the late ‘80s when Blue Rodeo was packing bars playing country music, Yates was packing them in, too. And then she went down to Nashville, got nominated for a Juno, toured with Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakam. But the success that came to her friends never necessarily arrived at Yates’s doorstep. It’s never stopped her, though, and when you listen to Yates it’s as if you've been flipping through the channels and finally something strikes you — a line of dialogue — and you just stay with it the whole time. It's time Lori Yates got the attention she deserves: take a listen to this.

— Tom Power (@tompowercbc)


Written in Music - Netherlands

Lonesome Highway - Ireland

Roots time Be - France

No Depression

Hamilton Magazine

Country Music People UK

CD Reviews & downloads

LORI YATES Sweetheart Of The Valley

See Who I Am / Ghost of Josephine / Sweetheart of the Valley / Laugh Till We Cry/ The Stray / Trouble In The Country / Shiloh / Call My Name / Angels With Bloody Knee s/ Corktown / What The Heart Wants / Whatcha Gonna Do?
Producer: Lori Yates and David Gavin Baxter
Self Released

5 out of 5 stars

Canadian Lori Yates has by her own admission been around the musical block a few times; starting off honing her talents
in the clubs and dive bars of Hamilton, dabbling with folk, roots and punk before being signed by Sony Nashville as pure country in the late 1980s. Her debut album Can’t Stop The Girl won some serious acclaim and she worked alongside some of the best, but important parts of Music City never really warmed to her at that time as is illustrated by legendary producer Billy Sherill’s comment “There’s only one redhead in Nashville, and that’s Reba.” A meeting which in no small part inspired Trouble In The Country.

She has a remarkable voice and writes strong, frequently autobiographical, songs and for this album has brought back together Hey Stella!, the band she fronted ten years or more ago and the combination works really well. The album gives us a combination of retro sounding country ballads and some seriously good up- tempo rockers, including the aforementioned homage to Mr Sherill.

My personal preference is for those tracks which chug along a bit, especially Corktown which recalls early days performing
as a support act in the popular Hamilton Tavern and enjoys the benefits of backing vocals from the interestingly named Bad Girl Choir; and the finale of Whatcha Gonna Do? would probably work really well as the last song in a live set too. The title track is a clever little song enhanced by some simple but effective twang guitar work from co-producer David Gavin Baxter and the more I listen to Shiloh the more I want to play it again one more time.

What I feel we have here is an album which will most certainly put Lori Yates in the frame to pick up another Juno Award to add to her collection but without a UK tour or significant airplay I can’t see it being spectacularly successful over here, which is a shame because the quality really shines through and those who do make the time.

  - Chris Smith, Country Music People UK



Americana Music Show

Top100Canadian Blog

Yates has had quite a career, and you can hear about some of the most interesting parts on this grand alt-country outing, a career highlight. It's her first since 2007's The Book Of Minerva, and a big reminder that she's one of the country's best singers and writers.

Out of the same Toronto cowpunk scene that coalesced around Handsome Ned. Blue Rodeo and Cowboy Junkies, Yates was lead singer for Rang Tango, and swept up to Nashville, Sony Music there looking (rightly) for the next big thing. The conservative town never likes rebels, and after a debut solo album, Yates was back in Canada for a couple of albums for Virgin in the '90's. Next came the sorta-supergroup Hey Stella!, with ace roots guitarist producer David Gavan Baxter, Prairie Oyster drummer Michelle Josef, and Blue Rodeo's Bazil Donovan for an album in the 2001's. She's also become an integral part of the powerful Hamilton music scene.

A gifted storyteller, Yates offers a mix of cautionary tales, life lessons and colourful people and places. Hamilton's full of them you know, and several show up in Corktown, a number about the legendary tavern (Canada's oldest), where you have to prove yourself, something Yates certainly did. Trouble In The Country is about the situation Yates found herself in arriving in Nashville, especially a run-in with the famous producer Billy Sherrill. 

Oh, back to Hey Stella!, the band got back together for this one, and they sparkle throughout, with tasty licks from Baxter and a solid country groove to match Yates' natural twang. There's still lots of the punk in her as well. She might be a sweetheart, but she'll kick your ass too. It's a kick-ass record in fact.

CKUA - Edmonton

Lori Yates could be crowned Canada's Best Kept Secret in the Roots Music category.
With eight years separating the release of her last album (Minerva) and her long-awaited "Sweetheart Of the Valley", you can't exactly call Lori prolific. The upside of that is that she doesn't need to be. When you can write 12 well-crafted songs and deliver them flawlessly you don't need to be churning out mediocre music just to fill the gaps.
With the (also flawless) musical backing of her Hey Stella! bandmates: Bazil Donovan, David Gavan Baxter (who also co-produces with Lori) and Michelle Josef, Lori's vocals are equally comfortable on what should become a classic country ballad, "Call My Name" to the more upbeat "Whatcha Gonna Do".

Lori Yates IS a country singer but the lyrics and honky-tonk brashness of "Trouble In The Country" ensures that you won't be hearing her on a top 40 "country" radio station. She's WAY too good for their "all filler, no killer" format anyway. Lori is exactly the opposite of that and "Sweetheart Of the Valley" backs me up in spades.
Allison Brock. Wide Cut Country. CKUA Radio Network in Alberta

CFBX - Kamloops BC

"When people ask why I love country music, I mention Lori Yates. Sweetheart of the Valley is honest, uncompromising, and a hell of a listen. Yates' best album yet!"Brian Saunderson Hurtin' For Real - CFBX - Kamloops, BC

WAGS - Bishopville N.C.

Lori Yates' new CD "Sweetheart of The Valley"  compels you to listen. It is rich, subtle, emotional,  with vocals that are a treat to the ears.  To understand the song you have to listen again but you want to listen again, and again, and again.

Jim Jenkins   WAGS radio Bishopville, SC


New Canadian Music


It has been a long wait (eight years) since country singer/songwriter Lori Yates last album, the award-winning The Book of Minerva, but her return with new album Sweetheart of the Valley is very welcome. Unlike so many assembly-line fabricated female (and male) country singers, she's the real deal, and the superbly written and sung all-original songs here make this collection her best work yet. The disc reunites her with old comrades Hey Stella!, an ace combo comprising Blue Rodeo's Bazil Donovan, David Baxter and Michelle Josef, with steel player Steve Wood a valuable addition. They add musical power and finesse to oft-sad songs delivered via a pure and passionate voice, one that'll tug solidly on those heartstrings. A Juno nominee back in the '90s, Yates first made a mark on the Toronto mid '80s roots/cowpunk scene with Rang Tango, and it's gratifying to see a veteran artist continue to evolve.

This scribe caught the charming performer's recent (and enthusiastically-received) sold-out release party in Hamilton. She has two upcoming Toronto gigs, at The Dakota on Dec. 4 and the Full Bawdy Loft (290 Carlaw St) on Dec. 5.

View Magazine

The Hamilton Spectator

Sweetheart of the city

Only the cold-hearted will be able to hold back the tears

Hamilton Spectator

The creative flow of artists from Toronto to Hamilton has become a source of civic pride in the past couple of years. But Lori Yates came long before it was fashionable, picking up stakes and moving her family here 13 years ago.

Yates came in search of affordable housing, a place to settle with her husband and newborn son. But she could have found that in many other places in the 905. She chose Hamilton because she liked its sense of community and deep musical roots.

At the time, she was one of Canada's most respected country singers, a Juno nominee with a history in both Nashville's Music Row and in Toronto's hip Queen Street clubs. She had been signed in the late '80s to a U.S. recording contract with Sony/Columbia and recorded and toured with some of the greats before returning to Toronto to front the popular bar band Hey Stella.

It was in Hamilton, however, that Yates discovered her songwriting muse. You can hear it on her new album "Sweetheart of the Valley," which Yates is releasing Saturday with a concert at Hamilton's Spice Factory. It's the finest work of her 35-year career.

The 12 songs on "Sweetheart" form nothing less than an alt-country masterpiece, unafraid of exploring the darker regions of the soul and making the coldest hearts cry.

"I always wrote, did a lot of cowriting," Yates says over a light lunch at a Locke Street eatery. "But I think I lacked confidence in my own writing. I was always trying to get people to write a certain type of song. Now I can write it. I'm not afraid to write it.

She pauses then adds with a laugh: "I'm queen of the depressing midtempo."

In 2007, she won songwriter of the year at the Hamilton Music Awards for her album "Book of Minerva." In recent years, she has taught a popular course out of her "Creative Genius Songwriting Workshop."

"The songwriting workshops really helped because they forced me to become focused," she says. "All the tips I was talking about with (the students), filtered through me too." 

It's difficult to reconcile the songs with the writer. Yates is an urban woman, raised in Toronto and now living with her husband, Gary, and 14-year-old son, Gavin, in a ranch-style house on Hamilton's west Mountain. 

She writes retro-sounding country songs, but there isn't a trace of twang in her voice. And much of her work is inspired from the Hamilton punk rock scene, a place where Yates found kindred creative spirits when she first moved here. 

"That whole Corktown scene quickly befriended me and I fell right in with them, the punks, really," says Yates.

During weekend matinees at the Corktown and regular visits to the old Tuesday songwriter nights at the West Town, Yates immersed herself in the music of Hamilton, teaming up with top players like the late guitarist Brian Griffith. 

She became a leading voice in the roots revival that has become a key part of the local scene, organizing popular Johnny Cash tributes and bringing together the city's many female voices for the annual "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad" show at This Ain't Hollywood. 

Yates is content with her art and her home in Hamilton. She'll be happy if her new record pays for itself, sells a few thousand copies through her website. If it gets picked up by a record label, all the better. 

She looks back on her brief flirtation with fame in Nashville without regret. 

"It was weird for me," Yates says. "I knew a grand opportunity was being offered to me if I wanted it. But … I wasn't making any friends, and all of my family was here.

"In order to make that move as a solo artist, my ego needed to be way larger than it was and my vision needed to be sizzling, burning. I didn't quite have it. I was looking at what I'd have to leave behind."

Hamilton Spectator

"With Sweetheart of the Valley, Lori Yates reclaims her title as queen of Canada's country singer-songwriters. She has painted a dark, alt-country masterpiece, film noire on the range. Only the cold-hearted will be able to hold back the tears."

Graham Rockingham

Music Editor

The Hamilton Spectator



Sweetheart of the Valley is one of the best albums I’ve heard in years.  Lori Yates sings from her soul, not her lungs and writes from her heart.  When I listen to this album, I want to crawl inside the speakers so I can get closer to stage and the singer. A career album for Ms. Yates.


- Don Graham, Cashbox


Not many artists come up with the best work of their career three decades in, but, happily, Lori Yates has done just that.Her new solo album, Sweetheart of the Valley, vividly demonstrates that the Hamilton-based honkytonk heroine is at the very top of her game.

 - Kerry Doole, Exclaim!


The Globe and Mail

"Lori Yates is an exceptional talent".

Americana UK

Lori Yates "The Book of Minerva" Heartfelt and touching, "The Book of Minerva" is one humdinger of an album... After an illustrious career on the Canadian Alt.Country music scene, Lori Yates seems to have departed from her days playing punk-tinged country to produce the luscious, acoustic solo album "The Book of Minerva". Inspired by the likes of Steve Earle, Bruce Springsteen and Lucinda Williams, Yates' songs tell compassionate and engaging stories about love lost, love rekindled, and of course, "Breaking out of mommy jail" - across the world she echoes the cries of a million mothers: I love my kids but give me a break!!!! "The Book of Minerva" is a solid collection of great acoustic country numbers. We have everything we could possibly want: plenty of heartache, references to Jesus, gasoline, good/bad girls, factory whistles, great tunes and engaging narrative. We also have guest appearances from musical heavyweights such as Tom Wilson, Justin Rutledge, Dottie Cormier and Bazil Donovan. With all this going for it, you can't go wrong. 7/10


If you missed Lori Yates' engaging performance at Library and Archives Canada earlier this month, here's your chance to catch up with the Hamilton musician. Yates, who released her last album eight years ago, has written a clutch of outstanding tunes for this disc; given them classic country, acoustically based arrangements; and rounded up folks like Tom Wilson and Justin Rutledge to help out on vocals. Yates is a stellar country performer with an ache in her voice that leaves strong men weak-kneed, self-possessed women misty-eyed and pretty much everyone on contemporary country radio sounding like Pollyanna. She does get rowdy, too, channeling Loretta Lynn on I'm Breaking Out of Mommy Jail, and walks the gospel road on Far Away. But when Yates ends the album with a tune called Walking Wounded, you know where her heart's mostly at. Rating: 4/5 Excellent


The luminous voice behind Toronto alt-country bands Rang Tango and Hey Stella! makes a long overdue return with the kind of austere, atomspheric ballad you could image being performed by Emmylou Harris or Gillian Welch. #4 Anti-Hit List

ON THE BOOK OF MINERVA by LORI YATES I tend to feel an affinity for a heart breaking, country infused, dust-on-the-plains that transcends even my love of a ass shaking pop number. I have to say I feel like I somehow failed myself by not being more familiar with more than the name "Lori Yates" for the five years I've been in music journalism. Lori's voice and songwrting are the stuff my musical dreams are made of. There are few voices of Lori's calibre in country music--or any music for that matter--that are also gifted with the ability to pen their own poignant lyrics and melodies with which to wrap their voice around. Whether you're two-stepping across "Fire & Gasoline" or weeping in "Simcoe" you will love the torturously beautiful The Book of Minerva.

Freewheeling Folk Show 93.3 CFMU

Lori Yates has recorded the best "Acoustic Album" of the Year, so far. The recipe was easy! To the melodic songs that she has written, add her stunning voice, mix in a simple, minimal background of acoustic guitar with pinches of electric, throw in ample quantities of surprise guests and your audio hunger will be truly satisfied! Lori Yates is definitely rising to the top of the musical pot.


LORI YATES - A PIONEER & THE MOST UNDERRATED GEM. Lori Yates' newest record is called THE BOOK OF MINERVA. Its solid, its simple, its melodic, its happy, its sad, its beautiful! It features Lori Yates and her gorgeous voice with the accompaniment of minimal musical instruments. Acoustic guitar and splashes of electric guitar back up Canada most amazing voice. There are 13 songs in total, and there are wonderful surprises all over the place. For an example, the song "You and Me, Maria" is a duet with Tom Wilson. The passion from their voices trigger goose bumps as far as the 401 West. Other artists like Justin Rutledge, Randall Hill, Tim Gibbons, Dottie Cormier, Michael Birthelmer (engineer), Victor Bateman, and Lisa Winn make this record sparkle. The States have Lucinda Williams, and that is not too bad. Yet, we have Lori Yates. Quite honestly, in my opinion Lori Yates is the BEST Canadian vocalist in this country. THE BOOK OF MINERVA is an example of how a pioneer does not gamble with her God given talent. Lori does what she knows best. She sings songs that she can sing flawlessly. Do not get me wrong, Lori can sing anything. Lori has never sounded better, and she has never written better.

Finding Her Voice - the Illustrated History of Women in Country Music

"Canada's Lori Yates brings a raspy vocal conviction, and casual fashion sense to the contemporary country female image".

The Hamilton Spectator/Lori Yates takes an iPhone tour of Hamilton


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The Roots Music Report's Top Americana Country Album Chart for the Year of 2015

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